In Her Shambles

Elizabeth Parker
Publication Date: 
Monday, April 30, 2018
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‘Wonderfully lucid and economical... precise and delicate in its use of language’ – Andrew Taylor

'This is a radiantly-written and vigorous collection by a rising star of British poetry.’
– David Morley (winner of The Ted Hughes Award)

‘Hers is a dexterous poetry of confidently conjured atmospheres and moods, at once elusive and heady with lyric invention. She has a canny way with the repeated phrase and a technical control that's impressive yet lightly worn . Parker's debut is, without doubt, a fine thing to be both celebrated and admired.’
– Martin Malone, 
The Interpreter's House

In Her Shambles is a celebration of women, families and nature, astonishing in its originality’ – SkyLightRain

In Her Shambles is Elizabeth Parker’s first full collection of poems. From the first poem ‘Crockery’, where a potential lover, in surrealist fashion, seems to fragment into reflections on a dinner table, we have a key to this author’s style: verb-rich, active, observational, things-seen-aslant. Poem two gives us more clues: the engaging metaphor of a father as a ‘rescuer’ is played out. Parker likes to regularly burst out of the one-page lyric, and often extends her metaphors over two or more pages. With more ground to cover, she can vary her physics from minute inspections to eagle-eyed overviews.

There is a visceral quality to the imagery: we are revealed and celebrated as creatures of the body: of flesh, blood, bone and ‘juices’. In the marvelous ‘Rivers’, family members are assigned their own distinctive bodies of water: “My sister’s brook is root beer with rot/ the dead giving up their tannins/ letting riches from their skins…”. There is a poem where two women on a bus examine and comment upon their aging hands and there is also a long poem, ‘Manus’ that is an intriguing and amusing investigation of the hand and its role in human history.

Heroines of various sorts often appear in these poems, most pointedly Lavinia from ‘Titus Andronicus’ (which might well rival ‘Macbeth’ as Shakespeare’s equivalent of a slasher-flick). Parker appropriates this outrageous tale and re-imagines it with an empowering twist: Lavinia will now not be stopped from pulling the stitches out of her tongue and trying to write using her own blood as ink. In ‘She Paints Him’ a man is subject to ‘the female gaze’ and he must take on the colours she picks. But these poems are less self-consciously political and feminist than they are carefully empathetic and human.

Likewise, in certain poems like ‘Ghosts’ and ‘Sand Cat’ there is a surrealist overlap between imagery from the natural world and the human/animal interactions. The result is an artful enactment of paradox and mystery. We must imagine ourselves with the intruder who breaks into a shed for shelter, as well as the mysterious cat whose reflections inhere in the landscape.

In Her Shambles is a notable debut from a talented young author.



Review by Judy Darley, SkyLightRain

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

I recently had a conversation with poet Elizabeth Parker in which I mentioned that post-it notes are a reviewer’s greatest ally. They’re a tool that can work brilliantly, but also have their fallibilities. With In Her Shambles, I ended up needing almost as many post-it notes as pages, as every poem contained lines to call me back, and make me want to re-absorb their power.

Parker is a master of shimmering last lines, drawing you quietly to a crescendo – a moment of thrill or unease. In each case, the final few words lie in wait, ready to tilt you off kilter, steadied only by the surety of Parker’s pen.

In Lasagne, the making of a meal represents a deeply rooted love affair, in which the ending stanza speaks volumes: “I peg pasta/ between fingers and thumbs/ lay it down for him.”

In Lavinia Writes, a eulogy of sorts to Shakespeare’s ill-fated character from ‘Titus Andronicus’, that ultimate declaration is a shout of rebellion, as the silenced victim, her tongue cut out, finds a way to share her anger by unpicking the stitches of her wound: “I tear more, free more/ until I am fluent.”

Elegantly unexpected word pairings heighten the readers’ awareness of the world Parker inhabits, where, with the precision of a botanist annotating slides, the poet describes sensations and experiences with tender familiarity.

In Rescues, she paints a portrait of her father through an itemised list of the creatures she’s witnessed him save, from pipistrelle bats to his trio of daughters. With each we’re given a sense of strength and compassion, portrayed deftly through descriptions like “black fruits he gently unpeeled/ to show us wings laced with limb.”

A passion for family and friends bobs surfacewards throughout, along with a respect for personalities from literature and history. Parker seems drawn to strong women who have been badly wronged, as well as to the stubborn savagery of the natural world, from brambles splitting bin bags, to the rivers she describes as representing members of her inner circle: “My aunt’s river grazes its banks/ and widens./ Rocks are loosed to salt her river.”

Sensual and elemental, this is a skilful collection that murmurs of emotions heaving just out of sight and on the edge of hearing. Parker seems to have no qualms about exposing her own vulnerabilities, which makes her work all the more breathtaking. In Her Shambles is a celebration of women, families and nature, astonishing in its originality while offering up disarmingly recognisable views.

Through reading it you may learn to see your own surroundings with fresh eyes. But the magic of this collection is that it’s likely you’ll catch a reflection of yourself, and find yourself wondering how, exactly, this poet knew.

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